Seasons - Then and Now

For the week ending 12 October 2019 / 13 Tishri 5780


by Rabbi Chaviv Danesh
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Rabbi Kruspedai said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan:Three books are opened on Rosh Hashana. One [book] for the completely wicked, one [book] for the completely righteous, and one [book] for the intermediate. The completely righteous are written and sealed right away for life, the completely wicked are written and sealed right away for death, and the intermediates are held in balance from Rosh Hashana until Yom Kippur. If they merit, they are written for life, and if they don’t merit they are written for death (Rosh Hashana 16b).

The deeper sources add that the judgment still continues until Shemini Atzeret. According to these sources, on Rosh Hashana one is judged and his verdict is written, on Yom Kippur his verdict is sealed, and at midnight on Hoshana Rabba his verdict is sealed with an additional outer seal, and the papers containing his verdict are given over to the messengers who will carry them out. These messengers though are not allowed to carry out the verdict until Shemini Atzeret (see Shlah, Masechet Succah, Perek Torah Ohr 70, Ben Ish Chai I V’zot Habracha 2 and Kaf HaChaim 664:1-5, 18-19 who quote the Zohar and the Arizal).

Based on the above, many minhagim surround the day of Hoshana Rabba. For example, many have the custom to add parts to the tefillah, to stay up at night learning Torah, to wear a kittel or other white clothing like on Yom Kippur, or Shabbat clothing. All this is because this day and Shemini Atzeret are the final days of judgment. While, obviously, even after Shemini Atzeret one can always do teshuva, it becomes much harder to change one’s verdict after this grace period.

However, this additional judgment that continues until Shemini Atzeret needs to be understood. Firstly, why is it that we need another judgment? Secondly what additional teshuva is required after going through Yom Kippur? And finally, why is it that we don’t focus on teshuva through viduy on Succot as well?

Judgment and Accounting

The Mishna in Avot (3:1) teaches: Akavia ben Mahalalel says, “Look at three things and you won’t come to do transgressions: Know where you came from, to where you are headed and in front of whom you will in the future give judgment and accounting.” The Vilna Gaon explains that judgment and accounting refer to two different accountings of transgressions. He explains that for every transgression, one will be held accountable for the transgression itself, and, furthermore, he will be held accountable for all the good deeds he could have been doing at the time that he was busy committing the transgression. Practically speaking, we need to understand how this applies to us. Granted that for the transgression itself one can do teshuva, but how can one fix the fact that he didn’t do mitzvahs at the time that he was busy with the sin?

The answer to this is in the gemara that says one who does teshuva out of love causes his transgressions to turn into mitzvahs (Yoma 86b). Why is this so? The commentaries explain that one who serves out of fear is like a worker who is doing his job only to get paid, and will therefore try to do as little as possible. Someone who serves out of love, though, sees no boundaries in his service. He will go out of his way and do as much as he can to improve his devotion. He will dedicate his time thinking about how he can serve better, and he will dedicate every spare moment and all of his energy and resources to the task at hand. The Maharsha explains that this is the meaning behind the gemara that says one who does teshuva out of love, his transgressions turn into mitzvahs. It is the extra time and effort that the one who is serving out of love will put into his service of Hashem, which will make up for the time he wasted when doing aveirot. Based on this it is clear that the way to fix the time wasted on aveirot is by doing teshuva out of love.

Teshuva of Yamim Noraim vs. Teshuva of Succot

The Beit Efraim explains that often the teshuva that we do on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is teshuva out of fear. As Chazal tell us, the reason we don’t say Hallel on Rosh Hashana is because the books of the living and the books of the dead are in front of Hashem. Since Hallel needs to be said with joy, and that is not possible on Rosh Hashana, we don’t say Hallel. As mentioned above, this kind of teshuva does not fully account for the time wasted on aveirot.

However, on Succot things take a different turn. The Torah mentions “happiness” three times when it comes to the holiday of Succot. This is more than any of the other holidays. Also in our prayers we refer to Succot as the time of our happiness. It is clear from here that one main service of the days of Succot is to serve Hashem with joy, which can then lead to doing teshuva out of love.

On a simple level, the happiness of Succot stems from the forgiveness we received on Yom Kippur, which immediately precedes Succot. However, some commentaries say that the joy of Succot is the source of joy for the whole year (see Ibn Ezra on Devarim 16:15 and Peleh Yoetz “succah” in the name of Gurei HaArizal). How are we to understand this?

Temporary Dwelling

The Alshich explains that every soul is taken from its permanent home in the spiritual world to a temporary home in this physical world at birth to accomplish its unique task. Once its job is done, the soul is removed from this temporary dwelling back to its permanent home in the World to Come. Most people, however, often forget that the physical world is only a means to an end, and not an end in and of itself. By leaving our seemingly permanent homes for seven days and dwelling in the temporary succah, we put our bodies in a state where it can feel the dilemma of the soul, which left its permanent spiritual home and entered this temporary physical world. This mitzvah, therefore, reminds us of the fact that our stay here, in the physical world, is a temporary one, in order to fulfill our specific spiritual mission in this world (Alshich on Vayikra 23:33).

The Chida suggests this is one reason why we read Megillat Kohelet on Succot. In Kohelet, Shlomo HaMelech, who owned nearly every physical possession of any value or worth, speaks of the transience of this world. Its main lesson is that pursuing the physical will never satisfy a person’s spiritual soul, as the midrash says: No one dies with even half of his wishes fulfilled (Kohelet Rabbah 1:34). This reminds us that it is not the physical accomplishments that matter but rather it is the spiritual ones that count, which is the perfect message to take away from the holiday of Succot.

Secret to Happiness

The commentaries explain that naturally there is no way for a person to constantly be happy because every person goes through some times of suffering. However, if one understands that the suffering is only temporary and for his own good, since it is meant to cleanse him and increase his eternal reward, then he can rejoice even in the worst situations (see Ben Yehoyada on Ta’anit 8a). Furthermore, through contemplating on the fact that this world is only a corridor to the World to Come, he will come to appreciate the opportunities Hashem gave him in this world to earn his eternal reward. This will then cause him to appreciate his spiritual accomplishments a lot more, which will lead him to perform mitzvahs with more fervor and happiness. All this will then lead a person to loving Hashem and serving Him out of love rather than fear. These are all ways that the joy of Succot can be the source of joy for the rest of the year as well.

We can now begin to understand on some level why there is another judgment at the end of Succot. We mentioned above that the teshuva we do on the Yamim Noraim is often only teshuva out of fear, which only makes up for the transgression itself. However, one still has to give an accounting for the good deeds he could have been doing at the time that he was occupied with transgressions. Unlike the Yamim Noraim, the teshuva we do on Succot is teshuva out of love, which is why the focus of the teshuva is not viduy but rather on serving Hashem with joy. As mentioned above, unlike a person who serves out of fear, one who serves out of love sees no boundaries to his service and will always try to add to his service. This devotion will then lead him to make up for the time lost through committing transgressions in the past and will thus complete his teshuva. Shemini Atzeret, which follows Succot, is the final day when we are meant to internalize the lesson of Succot, and is a special time to serve Hashem with joy. Hashem, out of His infinite kindness, continues the judgment until Shemini Atzeret to give us another chance to do teshuva out of love, which will lead to completing the teshuva that we started on the Yamim Noraim (based primarily on the hakdama of the Beit Efraim). May we all merit making the most of this time and internalize the message of serving Hashem out of love and joy.

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